EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
Theology students hear, very early on in their studies, the term “progressive revelation.” (This is not to be confused with “progressive Christianity,” a current trend that, for the most part, represents tweaking the Bible to accommodate today’s culture and flatter modern social movements. It does this by slapping God’s name and authority upon any secular endeavor—including those the original biblical writers would never have endorsed.) “Progressive revelation” encapsulates the concept that the Bible, with its sixty-six books, is one story of God’s plan—presented cohesively as one narrative rather than as a random collection of narratives and lessons God wanted to share with humanity. Choosing to accept progressive revelation involves accepting that the story of Christ is present throughout all books, even while the collection of documents is incredibly diverse! It is the “unity” of Scripture existing harmoniously within the “diversity” of Scripture. It is tracing elements and themes to a central character and redemptive purpose—documented over the course of approximately fifteen centuries by about forty authors whose backgrounds were wildly varied: from lowly men with no money or education to wealthy kings and everything in between, including physicians, lawyers, shepherds, fishermen, tax collectors, prophets, priests, and at least one now-famous tentmaker.
Initially, it seems unbelievable that the Word of God would have one central message, one fundamental revelation of God’s plan, yet was compiled by such a wide assortment of people. Under no normal circumstances would a tax collector (Matthew) tell the same story of the same Messiah as a zealous Jewish theologian (a traditional description of John). Under normal circumstances, these men would be natural enemies whose backgrounds and experiences would paint completely different portraits of a personal Savior. We would also never expect each author to remain consistent in his approach to the subject of God, both within his single books—and within multiple books and letters. This is because the authors were human, and therefore experienced God from many divergent periods of their own lives during the writing process. Their perspectives of the Divine were shaped by differing seasons of maturity and understanding. Yet, in a way that is initially quite mystical, this very kind of unity is precisely what happened among about forty men over a span of fifteen hundred years…sixty-six times!
To toss out another theological terms, this is known as the principle of internal consistency: the standard that demands that no part of the Bible disagrees with any other part; there are no inconsistencies or contradictions within Scripture, even though its human authors had unique personalities, came from differing cultures, employed varied worldviews, and lived in extremely different periods of history.
(As a quick note: Some skeptics claim there are inconsistencies and contradictions within Scripture, but they usually say this without considering the proper context of passages. One example, as shared in our recent release, Misfits: Learning from Our Inner Outcast and How It Can Empower Us to Find Our Destiny, relates to the passages from Deuteronomy that atheists claim are God’s instructions on how to beat one’s slave.[i] But, as Misfits goes on to point out, we can “look to chapters 15–21 for a wider and more accurate context…that, when read altogether, [describes] ‘God’s instructions on how much and what kind of punishment will be enacted upon slave owners who beat their slaves’—and the ‘slave,’ of course, in this context, is a Jew of the same race who has taken a paid position to work under a housemaster voluntarily as his full-time job [much like recent history’s indentured servitude].”[ii] That said, when context is responsibly applied to Scripture, we arrive at the miracle of internal consistency: one God, immutable and unchanging forever, consistently portrayed in the writings of many men from all over the world who experienced Him differently in their lifetimes, which occurred over a period of a millennium and a half.)
Internal consistency as a principle, and that alone, argues well for the authenticity of the Bible as a truly divine (God-breathed, God-directed) document. Scholars and mathematicians have pondered throughout history the probability of this kind of unity occurring over sixty-six times by happenstance, and they’ve calculated some unbelievable numbers. One example is found in the computations of famous mathematician, Peter W. Stoner. Stoner is the former chairman of the math and astronomy departments, as well as Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Astronomy, at California’s Pasadena City College in the early ’50s. Immediately following his tenure there, he chaired the science division and served as Professor Emeritus of Science at Westmont College, California, for the second half of the decade. Science Speaks, his magnum opus in the field of probability estimates and calculations as related to biblical prophecy, has been cited countless times for decades by secular and Christian scholars. Despite some minor criticism (much of which pulled Stoner’s numbers out of their immediate context), Stoner’s work remains a leading, reliable source of honest, transparent mathematics. Stoner’s opinion, therefore, becomes crucial in the question of whether this Book, this Word of God to humanity, is internally consistent. The “odds” (or lack thereof) that Jesus accidentally or coincidentally fulfilled the prophecies about His birth, life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension are ruled out by even secular logic and unbiased numbers, if today’s mathematician is being honest. But, to use Stoner’s calculations as an example: If Jesus had satisfied only eight Old Testament prophecies in His New Testament coming, it would be by “one chance in one hundred million billion” that it occurred outside the realm of divine guidance and intervention.[iii] He goes on to stipulate that “the probability of [Jesus] fulfilling forty-eight prophecies [by coincidence] was one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion!”[iv]
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As well-known, former Jesus skeptic and Case for Christ journalist, Lee Strobel, attests: “Our minds can’t comprehend a number that big. This is a staggering statistic that’s equal to the number of minuscule atoms in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, billion universes the size of our universe!”[v] This, for obvious reasons, makes the three-hundred-sixty-five-plus prophetic utterances of the Messiah prior to Christ’s arrival almost unfathomable to even attempt calculations for in similar terms…
And, unbelievably, many of these numbers do not take into consideration the odds that Jesus would have “accidentally” fulfilled the Jewish feasts and extrabiblical traditions the way He did. An intense study of His fulfillment of the Passover involves a rarely studied ritual of the Passover feast called the afikomen—involving an unleavened matzah cracker that is broken, hidden away in the household, and located by family members who then break the matzah into smaller pieces and partake of it. This represents the search for and discovery of the Jews’ future Messiah. (Sound familiar? Kinda like, oh, say, communion?) Jesus, on the night of His arrest, carried out a Passover Seder meal with His disciples and involved the afikomen ritual, though He deviated from tradition for a grand reason. He took the unleavened matzah bread before the meal and broke it into pieces, but skipped the hide-and-search portion of the ritual to illustrate that the Messiah was now found. It would be His body that would now be broken for humanity, fulfilling the purpose of the Passover ritual that had been carried out by the Jews for thousands of years before Jesus was born on the earth. In this, He became the Passover Lamb who was slain once for all. (The two men on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus by the way He broke bread [Luke 24:34]. Unless Jesus had some mystical way of tearing bread apart that distinguished Him from every other bread-eater of His day, this account shows that He likely handled the messianic “cracker” in a way that tipped them off to His identity. For a detailed, faith-building journey through this and other feasts/traditions fulfilled in Jesus’ time—and the religious authorities’ attempt to cover all of it up—get a copy of The Messenger: It’s Headed toward Earth! It Cannot Be Stopped! And It’s Carrying the Secret of America’s, the World’s, and Your Tomorrow!, available at SkyWatchTVStore.com.) But, though this is all true, we are so far removed from the culture of the ancient Jews that, in order to completely comprehend Jesus’ fulfillment of the feasts and traditions, we need extrabiblical research to fill in the blanks—and that is enormous territory. As a result, calculations of probability are usually based only upon clear Scripture and its mainstream interpretations, which leaves the brain-bending numbers noted earlier as the sole representation of the “odds” of Christ accidentally/coincidentally fulfilling prophecy. Imagine if we could take all we know about Christ and add that to the mix as well. The odds would certainly be impossible…yet one Man did it all!
In addition, the archeological evidence alone is astounding. The Word of God will never (as far as we know) be “provable” enough to place even the strongest skeptics in a position to believe, and we think this is because God wanted His Word to be accepted on faith, not based on science. There were, however, pieces of otherwise unexplainable leftovers from the ancient world that can strengthen the faith of those with eyes to see. Despite those who have, throughout time, tried to debunk or disprove certain historical details in the Bible, we can point to extrabiblical evidence, including: the census at the time of Jesus’ birth that led Mary and Joseph to the stable; thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands in the book of Acts situated on the map precisely as the Bible describes, without error (that’s a lifetime of travel for Luke just to show his book is geographically accurate in a day when nobody could have hopped online to challenge the accuracy of his maps); kings, rulers, government officials, and prominent leaders who served at the time the Bible indicates (which, again, would be easy for a creative fiction writer to get the who, when, what, and where confused); ancient extrabiblical documents—papyrus fragments, cuneiform tablets, and the like that relate many of the same facts, people, and stories included in the Bible; massive ruins still existing of the buildings, castles, and military structures mentioned in the biblical narrative; areas of land or soil that appear to have been, in ancient times, affected by something unnatural and unexplainable unless we consider them in the light of biblical miracles (the Flood, for instance); and so on. The purpose of this book isn’t to prove the authenticity of the Word, however, the closer we get to admitting that there is something too astounding about the Word to ignore, and the longer we pore over the pages of this life-giving Book, the more clearly we see that it’s all pointing to one progressive story of redemption through Christ.
So you see, the Bible is not a collection of marginally important, random notes and narratives recorded by a bunch of Jewish guys that climaxes in the record of the arrival of what we’re really interested in: a Savior…who doesn’t appear until the fortieth book. Nor does it simply build on the “more important” earlier Scriptures that foretell the coming Jewish Messiah, ending with the inconvenient, peripheral, and supplementary teachers’ notes by Jesus’ buddies called the “New Testament.” If progressive revelation (alternatively, the “revealing of God’s plan for all of humanity”) is going to coincide with the unswerving principle of internal consistency (one of the first and major rules in dependable biblical interpretations), then we arrive at a necessary convergence of the two concepts mentioned by the Pentecostal preacher and the YouTube rabbi at the beginning of this book.
The unity of the sixty-six books that outline progressive revelation is so astounding that, once understood, it seems even more bewildering than even the incomprehensible probability statistics and calculations of Stoner. Not one part of the text is better than another, and each portion depends on the others for a complete picture.
It’s kinda like a perfect steak:
1) God’s plan is cut out even before the beginning of the universe and the human race, involving Creation and the miraculously preserved bloodline of the Messiah (Genesis).
2) God’s plan is seasoned in the spiritual preparation of God’s people, Israel (Exodus–Song of Solomon).
3) God’s plan is marinated in the message of the prophets who foretold of the Messiah’s arrival and the circumstances of His redemptive work (Isaiah–Malachi).
4) God’s plan is seared and sealed as the Messiah arrives, fulfills the prophecies of His coming, completes the work of redemption, is raised from the dead, and ascends to His Father’s side (Matthew–John).
5) God’s plan is browned and heated as the Messiah sends the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) to equip His disciples to carry the Good News of salvation to the ends of the earth and leads His disciples to proclaim His message dependably to the fledgling Church (Matthew–Jude).
6) God’s plan is finally cooked to perfection and full flavor in the consummation of the redemption plan: His future return in the ultimate concluding demonstration of God over all evil (Revelation).
The real, beefy, meaty steak of the Bible keeps feeding perpetually.
In short, the integrity of Scripture is well supported throughout history, both by the world’s proof (what was shared earlier is only the beginning of mountains of other proofs), as well as by countless other apologetics materials by brilliant scholars who have documented other mind-boggling evidence that the Bible is authentically the God-breathed Word—the self-revelation of God to humankind.
UP NEXT: The Massive Importance of the Biblical Narrative
[i] Howell, Donna, Allie Anderson, and Nita Horn, Misfits: Learning from Our Inner Outcast and How It Can Empower Us to Find Our Destiny (Crane, MO: Defender Publishing, 2021), 57.
[iii] Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Zondervan, Kindle Edition), Kindle locations 3024–3025.
[iv] Ibid., locations 3030–3032.